Russian ambassador to Lebanon deplores “incomplete” Jeddah anti-terrorism conference

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Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Amal Khalil

Published Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, said the meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia today and tomorrow to discuss the creation of an international alliance against terrorism was "incomplete, because it does not include all parties fighting terrorism." He described the conference – which excluded Russia, Iran, and Syria – as "a meeting of the friends of the US and NATO."

The lush trees in the garden of the historical palace occupied by the Russian embassy in Beirut are in harmony with Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin's calm demeanor. But the exuberant garden outside and the veteran diplomacy of the master of the house cannot hide Russian anger from the manner in which the United States and the West have led the war on terrorism. This comes, in particular, after Saudi Arabia’s announcement of an Arab-US-Turkish meeting on terrorism on Wednesday and Thursday [10-11 September 2014] in Jeddah.

The ambassador described the gathering in Jeddah as a "meeting of the friends of America and NATO." Although his government "did not oppose this move," he could not guarantee its success, "as it will be deficient, incomplete, and does not involve all the sides fighting against terrorism." He was not be enthusiastic about an international coalition against terrorism, which excludes his country from negotiations and coordination in Lebanon and other parts of the world, which are under threat.

Russia was not invited to the Jeddah meeting, neither were its allies Iran and Syria. The West acts "as if it is the only concerned party, and not an issue for the international community as a whole." Zasypkin explained that Russia was the first to say that counter-terrorism "is a priority to solve the disputes in Syria and around the world." If the US and the West "plan to fight terrorism seriously, they should steer away from adopting double standards and work to unite the ranks and not create factions."

However, the 40-year veteran in Middle East affairs did not trust the intentions of the US and the West towards Russia, in particular. "It is a historical strategic attack, due to the independence of Russian foreign policy," he indicated. "They want to recreate a unilateral world order." In this regard, he criticized their calls for Iraqi Christians to emigrate to their countries, such as France. "Even if we believed [the West's] intentions are sincere," he added, "leaving the region is not the reasonable solution [for Christians]. It is the creation of a secure situation for them."

While the ongoing crisis Syria widened the rift between Russia and the West, could Ukraine contribute in bridging it? Zasypkin does not deny the positive outcomes of a peaceful solution in Ukraine could have in Russia and on its foreign relations. The anticipated peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis "will have a favourable impact on the situation in the Middle East."

However, the daily violations "of the signed agreement from the Ukrainian side will hinder reaching tangible progress, such as the continuous violent attacks by the local media against Russia." Zasypkin believed this was happening "with US encouragement."

However, Russia will not be impacted by US and Western skirmishes or sanctions. It still has the initiative and is seeking to reshuffle the cards. According to well-informed sources, Russia was behind Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem’s position in his most recent press conference. Muallem extended his hand to the US and the international community to coordinate against terrorism, as long as they coordinate with the Syrian government. According to the sources, "this was based on a piece of advice by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov."

Zasypkin denied knowing the details of the matter, but said the position was consistent with Russian principles or any responsible regime. The long-serving "officer" is personally convinced that supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria was the right decision. However, when questioned about possible support by the Russian air force in attacks against Islamic State positions inside Syria, he distanced himself from the issue and said the decision was up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the parliament.

Returning from his yearly vacation, Zasypkin brought with him a new Russian offer to support the Lebanese army. The battle of Ersal, which happened in his absence, reinforced his commitment to seriously supporting the Lebanese army with advanced weapons. But he stuck to his government's position of not commenting on the donation, proposed by Russia in 2008. His diplomatic role keeps him silent about technical and political matters related to the new donation to the army and the security forces.

However, Zasypkin indicated that Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk will visit Russia on September 19, in addition to another visit by a high-ranking army delegation, which could include Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Army Commander Jean Kahwaji in the next few weeks. These meetings will clarify issues related to the equipment to be sent to Lebanon.

But what does Russia expect in return and does it have confidence in the fate of the donation and those responsible for the army's lack of arms in the Ersal battle? Zasypkin said he learned from Lavrov that "words of optimism and pessimism do not serve diplomacy, which should be based on tangible data alone." This diplomacy also prevented him from commenting on the visits made by his two colleagues, the French and US ambassadors in Beirut, to political leaders to discuss the presidential elections. He said the international support group for Lebanon – whose meetings are regularly hosted by UN Secretary General's representative in the country – supported holding elections as soon as possible, without bias to any candidate.

Zasypkin felt safe in the Russian Embassy of Beirut and did not believe its staff were in any danger. Such threats become common for someone who had served in the Middle East for 40 years and lived through the wars and terrorist attacks. "There is nothing particularly new," he commented. There were the "regular threats" to the embassy from extremist groups in the past few months. The threat was not imminent, but they knew about them through security reports collected by the embassy from the ground. The state of alert and strict procedures are nothing new either.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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